September 23, 2015 · Sport · (No comments)

Sportswear to Streetwear – The Life and Death of the Tracksuit


Patrick Omari

The name tracksuit was conceived in the 1920s when the Great Britain Olympic Team’s Dr Oliver Johnson Schofield coined the phrase to describe his training kit of a two-piece lightweight suit. This would be worn over his shorts and vest to retain body warmth during vital training periods while preparing for the Olympic Games.

Throughout their early years, tracksuits continued to be used solely for sportswear purposes, as depicted in the famous athletic film Chariots of Fire, set in 1924. The tracksuit shown on screen consists of a grey, crew-neck sweatshirt and jogging bottoms as worn by the British Olympic Team at the Paris games.

As the soft, light two-piece suit proved ideal for athletes and sportsmen and women, adidas began producing them for the leisure market in the early 1960s. Although, adidas made the tracksuits for mass market, they continued to be used primarily for sportswear well into the 1970s.

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The 1970s was a period of crazy fashions and changing cultures. Glam-rock, disco, punk to name but a few. People would wear the tracksuits in an attempt to stand out from these groups, probably hoping for a positive response to the bright colours and shiny material.

If the 1970s was the birth of the leisure-wear tracksuit, then the 1980s was its teen years as times were-a-changing. The tracksuit was going through some major image changes, and people were noticing them a lot more. Tracksuits began to make waves in the sea of fashion and a lot of people were dipping their toes in for a try.

In the 80s, tracksuits got into the hip-hop crowd and began staying out late and mixing it up hippity-hoppity stylee. They became involved with street folk like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, often paired up with ice-white trainers with fat laces. The tracksuit was changing, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

As the tracksuit approached its adulthood, it was continuing to mix with the sportswear crowd but would often be found moonlighting in hip-hop videos and on the youths of the era. Kids hanging on street corners could afford the clothes that their rap heroes were wearing, making the tracksuit an affordable fashion accessory. Tracksuits were cool and everybody wanted to be seen with them, much like Corey Feldman in the 80s.

Tracksuits hit their peak of appeal in the late 80s but would continue to accept minor roles into the 90s and 00s, again much like Corey Feldman. In the 90s, the tracksuit began to lose its mass appeal and was often looked at as an unattractive girlfriend that you feel guilty being seen with. Due to this drop in popularity, less and less people were wearing them or just wearing them indoors where other people wouldn’t see them.

Individually, the tracksuit top or tracksuit bottoms are not deemed as bad as wearing the complete two-piece. In recent years in Britain, certain members of society choose to wear tracksuit bottoms with shoes and sometimes a button-collar shirt. This should never be condoned, encouraged and certainly not applauded as it is a terrible sight whatever decade you live in.

As the tracksuit approaches its old-age, it will continue to mix things up, often in a negative way. However, it could be the subject of a dramatic re-birth and could once again rule the fashion world. Let’s hope it does for the good of the world. Tracksuits may be hitting a mid-life crisis but it has plenty of life in the old dog yet. Much like the hat, the tracksuit can adapt and evolve to extend its life for a good few years yet.

Patrick is an expert Research and Travel consultant. His current interest is in

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